Building Cultural Intelligence

Building Cultural Intelligence

Earley and Mosakowski (2004) described cultural intelligence as the evolution of emotional intelligence (EQ). How leaders adapt to interactions across diverse cultures reflects their cultural intelligence (CI). This flexibility to succeed in complex cross-cultural environments indicates a leader’s ability to understand the culture, adapt through ongoing interactions, and reshape thoughts to consider new cultural behaviors (Alifuddin & Widodo, 2022). It requires leaders to cross-culturally code-switch—modifying one’s behavior to fit the cultural norms (Molinsky, 2007).

Cross-cultural leadership requires tackling organizational and social problems that span cultural backgrounds (Rockstuhl et al., 2011). There are two major types of cultural intelligence: organizational and geographic/ethnic (Earley and Mosakowski, as cited in Alon, 2005). Leaders with organizational CI can navigate different organizational frameworks and maximize their impact on the organization’s effectiveness. Otherwise, this lack of organizational cultural intelligence can lead to individual and corporate failures (Alone, 2005). Leaders with geographic and cultural intelligence can tackle problems that involve multiple layers of subcultures. They can adapt to the norms and values of different organizational groups and locations.

Importance of CQ and EQ

As organizations grow into multinational organizations, global leaders become more of a commodity. Effective leaders who can lead and manage diverse cultures are becoming more significant to businesses. A global leader needs rational intelligence (IQ), and emotional and cultural intelligences are needed for effective global leadership (Alon, 2005). 

When global leaders have cultural intelligence, they can bridge the gap between companies and cultures (Rockstuhl et al., 2011). With the on sought of globalization, culturally intelligent leaders can leverage the capabilities of a diverse environment (Clark & Polesello, 2017). This ability requires an openness to different perspectives and a global mindset to balance organizational and cultural cues to make informed decisions. 

Building Cultural Intelligence

Developing cultural intelligence is similar to building technical skills; it requires continuous learning. Molinksky (2007) suggested that cultural intelligence is developed through micro-building blocks. Small adaptations occur over single interactions (Molinsky, 2007). Each cultural exchange builds on each other—evolving. The primary building blocks needed to develop cultural intelligence include assessment, training, exposure, and evaluation (Earley and Mosakowski, 2004; Molinksky, 2007).

Like emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence requires leaders to assess their cultural awareness. This assessment provides a foundation for their differences and understanding to cultivate a more effective strategy for dealing with cultural differences (Ting & Scisco, 2006). Once one identifies their areas of improvement, one can attend generalized cultural training and education programs (Alon & Higgins, 2005; Molinsky, 2009b). Generalized training provides the basics required to promote inclusive and productive cultural diversity(SHRM, 2015). Otherwise, generational and cultural stereotypes can continue to permutate. These trainings can include targeted workshops, cross-functional group activities, and mock real-world situations (Molinsky, 2009b).

Exposure is an integral part of the cultural development process. During this stage, leaders can adjust their abilities by cross-culturally code-switching. Code-switching shifts leaders out of their comfort zone and adapts to the culture around them. Frequent interactions make individuals feel more authentic and competent in that culture (Molinsky, 2009a). 

Finally, leaders should evaluate their development with a 360-degree feedback assessment (Earley & Mosakowski, 2004). The 360-degree feedback assessment collects information from colleagues, superiors, and others to provide a holistic perspective of areas of improvement and development. Using the initial assessment and 360-degree feedback, leaders can determine how much they have grown.

Cultural Coaching Considerations

As mentioned in the previous section, a lack of cultural awareness can lead to stereotyping and generalizations. Failure to address cross-cultural differences may alienate persons who are already disadvantaged and stigmatized. Therefore, a coach must consider some things when coaching different cultures. These techniques can improve cross-cultural coaching effectiveness. 

Foremost, coaches should know that people from different cultures may communicate differently (Ting & Scisco, 2006). Therefore, they much check for understanding to avoid cross-cultural miscommunication. Coaches should avoid using idioms and other jargon that can be ambiguous. They should also be aware that silence during a conversation may serve as added value, either for the discussion or for needed processing time (Ting & Scisco, 2006).

It will behoove the coach to know multiple cultural and leadership models (Ting & Scisco, 2006). These models will provide a foundation for global leaders to build new organizational and cultural models. By staying current with the latest business and international events, coaches can remain aware of different laws and regulations for the countries they serve (Ting & Scisco, 2006).

Lastly, it is beneficial for a coach to build relationships on trust and openness (Ting & Scisco, 2006). When a coachee is comfortable with their coach, they are comfortable with overlooking minor cultural infractions and providing guidance on how to fill any cultural gaps (Ting & Scisco, 2006).


Globalization has required leaders to have not only intelligence but also highly emotional and cultural intelligence. Once a leader recognizes their limitations through assessment, training, and exposure can provide leaders with the building blocks needed to develop their cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence highlights the areas coaches need to consider when mentoring a coachee.


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Clark, J. M., & Polesello, D. (2017). Emotional and cultural intelligence in diverse workplaces: Getting out of the box. Industrial and Commercial Training49(7/8), 337–349.

Earley, C., & Mosakowski, E. (2004, October). Cultural intelligence. Harvard Business ReviewOctober 2004, 139–146.

Molinsky, A. (2007). Cross-cultural code-switching: The psychological challenges of adapting behavior in foreign cultural interactions. Academy of Management Review32(2), 622–640.

Molinsky, A. (2009a). A situational approach for assessing and teaching acculturation. Journal of Management Education34(5), 723–745.

Molinsky, A. (2009b). Switching cultural codes. BizEd86(1).

Rockstuhl, T., Seiler, S., Ang, S., van Dyne, L., & Annen, H. (2011). Beyond general intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ): The role of cultural intelligence (CQ) on Cross-Border leadership effectiveness in a globalized world. Journal of Social Issues67(4), 825–840.

SHRM. (2015). Cultural intelligence: The essential intelligence for the 21st century.

Ting, S., & Scisco, P. (2006). The CCL handbook of coaching: A guide for the leader coach (1st ed.). Jossey-Bass.